Action Stems from ACLU Lawsuit Challenging the Witness Requirement During the COVID-19 Pandemic
LYNCHBURG, Va. — A federal court today approved an agreement allowing mail ballots without a witness signature for the Nov. 3 general election for all Virginia voters who feel they cannot safely comply due to the pandemic.
The action follows a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Virginia on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Virginia and several individuals.
The court approved a similar partial settlement in May regarding the witness requirement for the June primary.
“The court’s action preserves the right to vote throughout 2020 for Virginians who cannot risk their health to get a witness signature in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Davin Rosborough, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “This settlement protects Virginians who wish to vote in this critical election year.”
Over a quarter of Virginians age 18 and over live by themselves, and almost a third of Virginians over 65 years of age — one of the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19 — live alone. The impact of this requirement would have fallen heavily on Virginians with disabilities and Black Virginians, who live alone in larger percentages than the population as a whole and who also are experiencing COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.
“We saw how Virginians and their votes were protected when the state agreed to waive the witness requirement for the primary election, so we are relieved that the same protection will be in place for November. Amidst all the uncertainty that this pandemic brings, it is incumbent upon our election administrators to provide voters with safe access to the ballot and assurance that their voices will be heard.” said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia.
“Voting is essential to our democracy and should be safe and easy to do, even in a pandemic. Getting rid of the witness requirement is a simple way to keep absentee voters safe without sacrificing the safety of our election. No one should have to risk their health to vote,” said Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia.
The lawsuit, League of Women Voters of Virginia v. Virginia State Board of Elections, was filed in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg, Va.